Dabbling in horseback riding…

Horseback riding is something I was first introduced to as a kid. We lived in a small town in Iowa when my dad was going to college. My parents had me when they were 19 years old…right after their senior year of high school. They were “encouraged” by their families to get married. My dad went to the college close by to play football. He also worked nights to help pay the bills. They rented a home on the outskirts of town that happened to have a field in the back with horses. Quarter horses and a pony…just the right size for me:) The horses’ owner was our landlord. My dad had experience with horses growing up, he had a pony at one time, and would help my uncle move cows in the fields. So the landlord trusted him to tack them up and ride them. We would ride and then feed them sugar cubes after:)

This must have been a tremendously stressful time of life for my parents…young, broke, raising me throughout college; but I have nothing but good memories of that time. That is where my love of horses, and all animals really, began.

Well, we didn’t live in the house long and we moved to another small town nearby where I started kindergarten. I rode sporadically throughout the years. My aunt and uncle lived on a farm and had horses and all kinds of other animals. We would also do trail rides sometimes on vacations. But I didn’t really have the opportunity to be around horses often.

Every time I was around a horse, I couldn’t stop petting them. Horses’ muzzles are the softest thing on Earth. I know this sounds weird, but smell a horse sometime. Forget about the obvious poop smell that is around (horses poop often:) but get in there and actually smell their coat, their mane. It’s a farm smell for sure, but it’s lovely:) Some people may think this is weird. I get it…but I don’t care:) I also love the way my dogs smell. Some people think dogs stink, and sometimes they do, but I LOVE it. I think only animal people will understand this.

Oddly enough, I eventually decided to get back into horses after a field trip I went on with my daughter when she was in kindergarten. One of her classmates’ dads was a police officer in town and was also part of the mounted police (police on horses) program in the department. He showed us where they housed the horses and how they worked with them. I couldn’t stop watching them. I tried to be as close as possible to them, and then one of the horses leaned over and sniffed me and I fell in love all over again. After that experience, I filled out an application to work with the horses as a volunteer. Buuuuut, they actually never called me…hmmmm. I wonder what happened there lol. I am a very hardworking, responsible person…they would have been lucky to have me:) After a time had passed and I hadn’t heard back from the police department I thought, “Why not just take lessons?”

This also happened to coincide with a very difficult time we were having with my stepdaughter. For all you stepparents out there…I see you and I understand the struggles. It is something I’m sure I will refer to often because stepparenting is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. And I’ve lived a very full life:) Dealing with a difficult child that is your own is one thing, but dealing with a child that is difficult who is NOT your own is a whole other thing. It is very hard to know your place in dealing with the situation. I was struggling. Life was very hard, and it was also during COVID which was all ready such a stressful time. I was drowning honestly. I needed an outlet. I needed something that was mine and mine alone. I needed time to myself and a hobby where I could totally check out for awhile. Horseback riding is what I chose. And that is why I am so passionate about this topic…about finding a hobby that you enjoy. Y’all….life is stressful. Parenting is stressful. Stepparenting is even more stressful. And it is only getting worse because we are living in a time where the world has gone crazy. Trust me when I say that finding this outlet saved me. And that is my hope for you…that finding YOUR thing can save, or at the very least, nourish you.

First of all, being around horses is therapy in and of itself. They are very calming animals. The reason that riding a horse is so enjoyable is because there is a mind body connection between you and your horse. When you see a good rider with their horse…it is a thing of beauty…something to behold. They have a connection. Horses are used as therapy for troubled individuals for a reason. They sense your emotions, and feed off how you are feeling. To be in control of your horse, you have to be in control of your emotions, push away your fear. If they sense your fear then they are fearful. They are prey animals, they run from any apparent danger. They need to trust that you will protect them from the objects and sounds around them that they perceive as danger. That is where the bond comes in. The fact that an animal that large is trusting you to climb on their back and keep them safe is empowering. In turn, you need to learn to trust them, and trust in yourself and your skills. You need to mentally and physically take control. This pushing away of fears or anger, teaches emotional control and that control carries over to other areas of our lives. You’ve heard the saying “What do you do when you fall off of a horse? You get back on.” How many instances in life can you think of where that would be helpful?! Horse people are some of the toughest people I’ve ever met. But of course it takes practice to get there…just like anything worthwhile in life.

Despite all that…it’s fun!!! There is nothing like it. When you can truly just get on a horse and ride it is tremendously enjoyable. You can go places you couldn’t with any other mode of transportation. Have you been up in the mountains or through a river on a horse? Amazing.

There are some things you need to be aware of though. For instance…

1. You shouldn’t just get on a horse and start galloping through a field like they do in the movies. I understand that is how a lot of people learn…they get thrown on a horse and are expected to just do their best to hold on. That’s how my husband learned. His friend had horses and he just got on one day and the horses went running through the fields and he just tried like hell to hold on. That could work as a kid…you are more pliable and have no fear. There is something to be said for this method…but let’s be honest…we are not young anymore:) If you can risk getting hurt, breaking a bone, etc. go for it. But I highly recommend taking proper lessons with a professional so you don’t get hurt unnecessarily (especially if you are middle aged like me:) They can show you everything you need to know…from grooming the horse, tacking them up properly, proper horse care and just basic safety. The more you can just hang around a stable, and the more questions you ask, the more information you can gather about horse care.

2. It may take awhile, a looong while, to get really comfortable on a horse. And you should not just ride one horse, you should ride multiple. Just when you think you are really getting the hang of riding on one horse, you ride a different one and then feel like you are starting all over again. Try different breeds as well. You may feel more comfortable on certain breeds then others because different breeds excel in different ways. For example, the way you ride a quarter horse is different than how you ride an Arabian horse. Arabians tend to need a little more finesse as they are a bit more finicky.

3. Mostly, horse back riding is a wonderful hobby and one that is well worth the time, but don’t expect to rush the process. Some days you will feel frustrated. Some days your horse just will not cooperate at all. Some days you will doubt yourself and wonder why you even started in the first place. I struggled A LOT. I actually broke a bone because I pushed it and didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I have evolved, but I still struggle…a lot. But if horses and riding gets in your blood like it did in mine, then you will come back. You will keep trying. And believe me, it will be well worth it.

Full disclosure here…I dabbled with horseback riding…in the beginning. Now this is a full blown hobby for me and our family. I say “our family” even though my daughter and I are the only ones who ride (and sometimes my little guy…depending on the day:), because our whole family is involved. We now own 2 horses and it is ALOT of work. It is incredibly enjoyable, but work just the same. We don’t keep our horses on our property; we board them at our riding facility. The staff there feed them and muck (horse language for clean:) out their stalls. They put them out to pasture to run and graze and play. Even with all of that done for us, it is a serious commitment to own a horse. The boarding facility we chose is 30 minutes away from our house. By the time we drive there, tack up the horses, ride them, untack them, put them back in their stalls, clean the tack, put it away, and prepare their grain for the week it is at least a 3 hour adventure every time we go out there. We try to get there 2-3 times a week. That is a serious time commitment. I am lucky that my schedule is flexible enough to make it work, but it will not work for everyone. It is also a financial commitment. Horses and their care are most certainly not cheap. There is feed, vet bills, shoeing, medicine, tack, and most likely a boarding fee involved. That is a major financial commitment and something that could potentially affect the whole family.

Obviously you do not to be all in like we ended up being. We are all in because we fell in love with the sport and our animals. However, if this hobby sounds interesting to you, just start with riding lessons. See where it takes you. When I started I took one lesson a week for an hour and it cost $40 per lesson. Doable! Just beware…you may love it:) It may start you down a path that is difficult to turn back from:) But in my mind that is a good thing. When life seems overwhelming, when I’m mad about something…I just want to go ride my horse. It is healing for me. The trivial things in life just don’t seem so important anymore.

“A pony is a childhood dream. A horse is an adult treasure.”

Rebecca Carroll

Sincerely written on this day,

The Dabbler

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